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Allen Adamson

Co-Founder & Managing Partner

Former Landor Chairman/Brand Strategy Guru

Consumers Are More Likely to Celebrate Brands That Celebrate Women Every Day

I have a friend who told me she doesn’t send her mother Mother’s Day cards. Her mother’s attitude is that a pretty card, although a nice gesture, isn’t a substitute for a year’s worth of appreciation. While I know for a fact that my friend absolutely appreciates her mother, this little anecdote kind of sums up how I feel about the reaction of marketers and brands to International Women’s Day.

This March 8th event is intended to celebrate women’s cultural, political, social, and economic achievements and to raise awareness of, and rally around, gender equality. While International Women’s Day is not a new initiative, it takes on new significance this year, in good part the result of the election of Kamala Harris, the first woman to hold the position of Vice President of the United States. In terms of achievement, this was a profoundly momentous event on many levels. But to set aside one day to celebrate the long-fought and hard won achievement of women, be it in politics, business, or the entertainment world is, in my opinion, disingenuous.

Yes, it’s a nice gesture that many marketers have created touching and motivational ads and promotions linking their brands to International Women’s Day. Among past examples, Nike’s powerful “there’s no wrong way to be a woman,” spot, Mattel’s launch of 17 role-model Barbie dolls honoring women of achievement, including Amelia Earhart, NASA mathematician, Katherine Johnson, and Olympic snowboarder, Chloe Kim. And, also, the McDonald’s campaign lauding the myriad women entrepreneurs who own its franchises. Linking a brand to a social cause or a higher purpose is now and always has been a good thing. Brands should want to connect with consumers in a way that resonates beyond a specific product or service. These days, more and more, people want to know about the values of the brand before they opt in as consumers of the brand.

My belief, however, is that the brands that will do the best in any linkage are those that do not see these causes or purposes as a 24-hour promotional opportunity, but as a long-term business strategy. Actually, make that a holistic social and cultural strategy. We are, after all, talking about gender equality. Why one day? What about the other 364 days?  One of my favorite examples of a brand that has been taking the 365-day attitude when it comes to literally celebrating women is General Electric (GE). “Imagine a world where we treat great female scientists like celebrities,” it poses in a advertising initiative. Celebrating Millie Dresselhaus (who passed away a few years ago at the age of 87), the first woman to win the National Medal of Science in Engineering, the spot was part of GE’s campaign to raise awareness that it planned to significantly increase its employment of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) roles in order to bridge the STEM gender gap and achieve 50/50 gender representation in its technical entry-level programs. The campaign was launched to celebrate female scientists and inspire girls to become scientists in order to help GE find recruits to meet the growing demands for professionals in this field.

In an era in which every brand is trying to do the politically correct thing, to link itself to a higher purpose, consumers will perceive any short-term efforts as the short-term promotions they really are. This is especially true given our transparent marketplace and its increasingly skeptical population in which the value of authenticity cannot be overstated. To make a real contribution to social causes, brands must take the long view and build solutions around how they do business 365 days a year. In other words, don’t send a card. Show me you care every day. Provide proof of your awareness that gender equality is not simply a marketing opportunity, but how business should be done, and life should be lived, day in and day out.

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